We caught up with Nikki Neuburger ’04, who was recently appointed Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer at Lululemon, an athletic apparel company for yoga, running, training and other sweaty pursuits.
Prior to joining Lululemon, she was Global Head of Marketing for Uber Eats, leading the introduction and global expansion of the brand. Previously, she worked at Nike for 14 years, where she was Global Vice President of Nike Running.
Neuburger started working at Nike after earning a bachelor of science in business administration. She was also team captain of the NCAA Division I volleyball team.
As she settled into her new office at company headquarters in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Neuburger talked about what it’s like to work for emerging global brands, as well as an icon, and how her experiences at Oregon State prepared her for this exciting career.
What are you looking forward to in your new role at Lululemon?
NN: What excites me most is the opportunity to build the reach and community of this brand. Lululemon is still in hyper-growth mode. It is primarily known as a brand that started in yoga and focused on women, but we have aggressive goals and a product line to ensure we become famous for more. I’m a lifelong athlete, and sports, fitness and overall mindfulness is a big passion area for me. It’s always been part of who I am and part of what drew me back to the industry. What makes Lululemon a little different is we’re focused on inspiring and enabling the sweat life, not only through physical performance. We’re giving people the tools, products and inspiration to become active and pursue a healthy lifestyle. It feels really meaningful to connect and inspire people in this way.
How did being a student-athlete prepare you for working in the sports apparel industry?
NN: First and foremost, it taught me how to be a member of a team and how to win as a team. Being captain of the OSU volleyball team, I was really thinking about how to motivate individuals to get after a shared goal. Now I’m leading a business and a group of people in the workplace. From an academic perspective, Oregon State and the College of Business provided the context and the environment for me to thrive. It felt like a community, and I am still in contact with some amazing mentors, professors, coaches and teammates who contributed in shaping the person I am now.
How did you handle the responsibility of managing a major portfolio with Nike right out of college?
NN: When I first started at Nike, their Global Marketing Team had just been created. I came into the company at entry level, but the team was small. There weren’t enough resources for me not to be involved. One of my first big project was the 25th anniversary of the Air Force 1 (the first basketball shoe to use Nike Air technology). Right away, I was exposed to the company’s top marketers and executives. I attribute a lot of my learning and success to just being in the room, listening and observing. I was very lucky to have access to managers and mentors operating at the level who were happy to bring me along for the ride.
How did you accomplish industry growth in such a short time at Uber?
NN: I loved my time at Uber. It was a very different and fast-paced experience. As a brand that hasn’t been around for a long time, Uber is still figuring things out. That prepared me to lead through ambiguity, become a builder (not just a manager), to prioritize, move quickly and change direction. During my tenure, the business doubled as our market coverage expanded to 36 countries. A lot of that success is because of how we built and scaled the brand and product. It now looks, feels and operates as one brand. Uber Eats is known and recognized globally, whether you’re in Vancouver, Corvallis or Tokyo.
What lessons about digital and marketing to Millennials at Uber Eats are you bringing to Lululemon?
NN: I wanted to work for Uber to learn how to personalize an experience for the customer, at scale. At Uber, the product I was selling is not a physical thing. It’s an app, a service. At Nike, my product was a shoe. At Lululemon, it could be a bra or yoga tight. At Uber, I was selling the experience of picking up food and bringing it to your door. The digital platform gave us the ability to customize an experience based on a person’s preference or behaviors. So if you tell the app you like Italian food, I can make sure that’s what you see. That’s what’s so different between the physical and the digital world. A lot of what I’m taking with me is the mentality of how we can connect with our guests in a way that feels highly personalized. Also, the speed of tech taught me about operating with a sense of urgency; being strategic, but moving as quickly as possible to chase a goal.
How does a brand like Lululemon stay on top and compete with celebrity brands?
NN: Lululemon operates from a place of passion and authenticity for the sweat life (how lululemon describes the lifestyle of their guests). The idea of building community from the ground up is what makes Lululemon special. It’s the secret sauce. We’re about building relationships and inspiring people to maximize their full potential. This approach is unique and meaningful and you can see it’s power through metrics like guest loyalty.
Three career tips from Nikki Neuburger
One. Be thoughtful and purposeful about the brands you want to work for and with. This makes the work more exciting. You’ll add more value to a brand if it’s one you believe in.
Two. Identify strong managers and mentors. I credit a lot of my experience and success to working for great leaders I could learn from. Today, I try to model that behavior for others as a leader, manager and a mentor.
Three. Be extremely tenacious in pursuing your career goals. Identify where you want to be and take advantage of every opportunity you can that will help to prepare you for your shot. Meet as many people as you can, build your network, attend and participate in events and live the consumer experience, work retail, become a product expert, take notes and build a point of view. When you become a subject matter expert through first-hand experience, you build credibility and your own confidence.